Monday, August 31, 2009

You've heard of the kid in the candy store...

Here's the candy store, Sweet Jane's in downtown Halifax.

And here's the kid, in over her head...

I brought my own New York cupcake, thanks!

Zoë chose some kind of crazy everlasting infinite push pop. She was working on that thing for more than an hour. We took a leisurely stroll around Point Pleasant Park and that pop just kept going and going...

Bud the Spud, We Hardly Knew Ye

We took Rob into Halifax for lunch, so he could experience the glory that is Bud the Spud's french fries, before Bud True rides into the sunset. (For the story of Bud's near retirement last year, thwarted by the recession, and his impending retirement this year, see here: Bud and his lovely wife Nancy are Halifax institutions, having operated their chip truck downtown since 1977. He makes some good fries, boy howdy.

Sadly, when we arrived, Bud and his truck were not there. His old spot on Spring Garden Road was taken by another chip truck, operated by "Bill's Family." We saw a fella with a bag of what looked like Bud's fries (in a greasy brown bag), so I asked him if Bud was gone. Figures, I'd harass a deaf-mute, who handed me a piece of paper to write my query upon. Apparently he still didn't know what I was talking about, and just shrugged. So, we walked all ten feet over to Bill's chip truck and gave 'em a try.

They looked promising. Nice and greasy, perfectly browned, with bits of potato skin visible.

The test...

Zoë made some friends -- the little park in front of the truck was mobbed by starlings and pigeons. Bill's fries have the urban wildlife seal of approval.

I'm pretty sure this guy is the pigeon from Mo Willems' books ( He looks vaguely familiar...

The chip truck offers free water for the four-legged. Unless they want a straw...

The fries were good.

In Canada, they eat fries with a fork, even greasy brown bag fries. This may be because they put all kinds of weird crap on their fries. Gravy, for instance. And there's something called Poutine, which is apparently a staple here, despite having a vaguely obscene-sounding name. It's fries with cheese curds and brown gravy. I'll not be trying that. I'm a french fry purist -- just salt and a little Heinz ketchup for me, thanks. And I'll be eating them with my fingers. ("Poutine" apparently has several meanings in French, including "fat woman." Yet another reason to avoid it.)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Charlotte the spider vs. Tropical Storm Danny

Tropical Storm Danny dumped a ton of rain on us Saturday. It was actually worse than that wimpy Hurricane Bill. Sunday morning, we found an enormous spider rebuilding her web outside the bedroom window. We had a really perfect view of the whole process. It was pretty cool. She worked pretty fast and had that thing built in a flash.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Where da whales?

Our pals back home gave us a gift certificate for a whale watching tour out of Halifax Harbour. We love us some whales, so off we went! The weather was perfect -- sunny and cool.

Sadly, we didn't see any whales. The Murphy's On The Water tour doesn't actually leave the harbour -- it goes to the mouth of the harbour and then turns around. It is a pretty big harbour -- the longest in the world. The "captain" told Rob that they haven't seen any whales since Hurricane Bill last week. We saw some seagulls. And two seals popped their heads above the water. And we got a nice view of the harbour.

Here's the guide, who, according to her bio, is a marine biology major, as she explains to an attentive audience that lobsters are really delicious.

She explained how to tell males from females. And told us that if a lobster ever pinched her finger, she'd pull its entire arm off because "they can grow another one." I'm sure the delicious lobsters made note of that. She also said that lobsters don't feel any pain when you boil them. This was probably also news to the delicious lobster, and is a convenient falsehood that has been debunked by scientific research (But don't take my word for it. See here: The guide also told us that seagulls are "obnoxious" and that fishermen hate seals because they eat all the fish. All of which made me think that the wildlife probably give this tour boat a wide berth, if they know what's good for 'em.

We found a tiny door on the boat. It's more than likely a portal into John Malkovich's brain, but I'm hoping it's actually George Clooney's portal. I bet he'd be a lot of fun to be.

We also saw Theodore Tugboat, star of a popular Canadian children's TV show. According to Wikipedia, "The show deals with life learning issues portrayed by the tugs or other ships in the harbour. Most often, the tugs have a problem, or get involved in a struggle with each other or another ship, but they always manage to help one another resolve these problems and see them through. Their main focus however, is to always make the Big Harbour the friendliest harbour in the world, and to always do a good job with their work related tasks." I guess Theodore is kind of a maritime Thomas the Tank Engine. Zoë is very hot to cruise the harbour on Theodore Tugboat. He does look very friendly. Here he is heading for port -- behind him is one of the friendly orange oil tankers heading for the refinery.

See ya next time, Theodore!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Beautiful beach day

It was a gorgeous day, so we headed back to Rainbow Haven beach.

The water was painfully cold. But the sand was warm and the sky was blue.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A grey, cold day, but we went to the beach anyway.

We went exploring around Dartmouth and Cole Harbour today. I saw a promising sounding road called Cow Bay Road on a map, so we headed southeast.

First, we came across Silver Sands Beach Park, where there's a giant moose for some reason.

Right across the little parking area from the moose, someone is building a huge, ugly, Italianate McMansion. Gorgeous views, however. And a windmill that was whipping around like crazy in the wind.

Silver Sands beach isn't much of a beach, and there's about a one inch strip of sand on it. Mostly, it was a lot of cool rocks and TONS of seaweed.

Maybe Hurricane Bill brought all the seaweed up. We found a few shells and rocks, and I picked up a nice driftwood stick of the sort that I like.

There were mountains of seaweed, at least 5 feet high in places.

There was also a nice pond nearby, surrounded by marshes. I'll bet there's good birdwatching there. I'm going to take Zoë back for the fall migration.

Next, Cow Bay Road took us to a really nice, sandy beach called Rainbow Haven Beach. It had restrooms! Or as they like to call them here, "washrooms." There was a warning about arsenic in the water, so we didn't partake.

The beach was cold and windy, but Zoë could not resist the water.

Which caused her to squeal, run away, run back, squeal some more, run away, etc.

A good time was had by all.

More seaweed.

Some days are better than others if you're a lifeguard. This one looked pretty cold.


We took Zoë to her new school to register this morning. It was quick and painless. The school had been attacked by vandals and hooligans overnight, and there was graffiti all around the outside. We walked all around the building because we couldn't figure out where the front door was. We found it. It was the last place we looked. And also the first.

Zoë got cozy with the principal, Ms. Waterman, who gave us a tour of the school. It was nicer inside than outside. While we were there, they were cleaning up the grafitti and replacing a broken window. Very efficient.

The photographic evidence is conclusive that a fairy accompanied Zoë on the school tour. (See it there, following behind her?) When Zoë saw the picture, she whispered "That's very unusual." Indeed.

Further evidence that Canada is not like the US: I heard on CBC radio yesterday that the school district was still looking for 20 lunch monitors, since they had mandated universal free lunch for the entire district this year. I assumed that meant the schools were required to serve free lunch to all students, not that all students were required to eat school lunches. When we got to school today, Ms. Cuthbert the secretary, who is a dead ringer for Susan Coyne (for you Slings and Arrows fans), asked if we'd be having lunch at school. "It's free!" We told her that Zoë would bring her own lunch. "As do all the children," she said. Turns out, what universal free lunch means is that every kid CAN now eat lunch at school, instead of having to go HOME for lunch, which is apparently the way it was done before. And the kids who lived too far away to walk home for lunch had to pay for the lunch monitors who supervised lunch. That's OLD school. Like, when my Dad was in school, back in the 1920s. Or like when Laura Ingalls Wilder was a schoolteacher out there on the prairie. So. There is no cafeteria at school, and the kids will eat lunch in their classrooms. Maybe the lunch monitors are there so the teacher can take a lunch break too.

Which made me wonder: back in the states, the free and subsidized lunch and breakfast programs for low income students are an important (if hidden) component of the welfare system. Does Canada just offer better welfare, so that families can actually afford to feed their own kids? Or do the kids just starve, like those poor chill'uns out on the prairie?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I had to apply for a Social Insurance Number today -- the Canadian equivalent of a Social Security Number. It was incredibly easy. I filled out the one page form at home, drove to the office downtown, and was in and out of there in 20 minutes, tops.

Zoë and I walked from there to the ferry terminal and took the ferry to Halifax, where we wandered around the harbor boardwalk for a while, then hopped back on the ferry and headed home. Nice ferry ride. The harbor was smooth, and the ride was calm and short. Zoë made friends with a girl from Argentina, whose family is also here for two years.

Then we went to the library. I took our cable bill as proof of address. They wouldn't accept it, because it's in Rob's name. They refused to give me a library card. Back home. Zoë really, really wanted to go to the library, so I took my passport, my work permit, and the form from the SIN office with my address on it. They accepted THAT, and gave me a card. But they wouldn't give Zoë her own library card without a birth certificate to prove her identity. Seriously? That's pretty hard-assed there, library ladies! We never had to show her ID to get a card back home. Don't they want to encourage kids to use the library? Making a seven year old show ID to get a library card? What will she have to show as proof of address? Sheesh, I say. It was easier getting her into the country.

I came back as a bag of groceries...

Accidentally taken off the shelf
Before the date stamped on myself.

This is what happens when grocery bags and kittens collide.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

After the storm


This is the story of the Hurricane...

What hurricane?

... the man the authorities came to... call Bill.

Bill turned out to be a lot of wind and rain, but nothing very spectacular. I hear tell they had some roads washed out on the coast, and three people were washed out to sea when they stood on a sea wall like a bunch of fools. But here, a day of hard rain which cleared up by afternoon. We had a leaky window.

It was Zoë's 7th birthday -- a day for staying inside and playing Nintendo. Not even her first hurricane could distract her from that. Notice how she's sitting in the window, with her back to the storm. Take that, wimpy Bill!

After the storm, Zoë and I walked the path behind the house, and I found the bungee cord that used to be on my bike basket. The bike basket that was stolen when my bike was stolen. So we know the thieves went thataway. I'm on their trail... a trail of tears, if I have anything to say about it. Low down dirty no good varmints.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The giant arachnids of Nova Scotia

There are these huge spiders all around the house. They don't get into the house, and they're actually pretty timid and flee whenever they see us, but you can't walk outside at all without going through a spider web. These guys are big and brown and build very large webs. The webs often extend from the house to the cars in the driveway. We also find them across the stairs on the deck, across the path to the trail behind the house, all over the garbage and compost bins, and all over the yard. If we could teach these guys to attack the the thieves, they'd be very handy.

The landlord denied that there were spiders here. He warned us about ants though. We've seen two microscopic little ants here so far. They'd be finger food for the big black ants back home, at least one of which I know for a fact hitched a ride across the border with us. I turned him loose in the yard, about one second before it occurred to me that I might be introducing a non-native species to Nova Scotia. If gigantic black ants overrun the province in two years, well, I'll be gone by then.

Note the spider on the top -- that's my blurry finger there, for a sense of scale.

Bud the Spud

Zoë and I went to the office yesterday so I could get some paperwork filed. They were going on their annual pilgrimage to the Bud the Spud french fry truck downtown, and invited us to tag along. A brisk walk took us to the truck, parked near the library, where we received perfectly browned, fresh-cut fries served in a brown bag speckled with grease. Perfection! I can't say that Canadian cuisine is anything to write home about, but they do good fries. (Of course, they eat them with gravy sometimes, and also something called "extra curds," which I suspect to be some sort of cow-based substance.) They also apparently eat fries with a fork, which may explain why the guy over at Jungle Jim's thought it was so weird that Denise and I needed napkins. Apparently we're barbarians, eating french fries with our fingers!

Zoë lamented several times that she wanted curly fries, and then proceeded to eat most of my fries. Then she wanted more. The child is learning.

On the way home, the coworkers stopped for beers (and then ice cream), while the young'un and I meandered back to the office. We stopped at the farmer's market near campus, and Zoë had a homemade strawberry fruit pop. We got the lowdown from S. about the best place to buy produce (Dave's on the corner of Main Street and Brigadoon).

Speaking of produce, we tried the local corn the other day. Awful. Tasted like watered down corn-flavored water, with extra water added. It looked weird too. We shall miss our marvelous New York corn in the summer.

Nova Scotians will rob ya blind

A $20,000 boat and trailer brought to Nova Scotia for the 2009 Nautel laser world championships has been stolen.Read all about it here: Their first mistake was bringing the boat to Nova Scotia. Their second mistake was not locking the boat up and posting an armed guard.
As a coworker said, "I'm telling ya, Nova Scotians will rob ya blind!"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Martinique Beach

Took Zoë to the beach yesterday. One of the perks of living here, as long as that Hurricane Bill stays away.
She explored the tidepools and rescued many stranded winkles.

So this is how it is.

The office admin at work has this to say:

"Welcome to Canada. Efficiency is not a hallmark of government bureaucracy anywhere, but CIC (immigration) has managed to totally eliminate it from their procedures. And welcome to Nova Scotia. I grew up in Toronto, even hung out in the 'bad neighbourhoods', but nobody ever stole anything from me until I moved to Nova Scotia in 1993. In fact, someone stole my gym bag out of my car in the parking lot at work, just last week."

The other day the guy at the bank, who happens to live right around the corner from us, told us that his MacPass (bridge pass) was stolen from his car the first night he was here.

So, apparently we've moved into the pointless thievery capital of Canada, where if it ain't locked or bolted, it gets swiped. Great.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday: The Public Gardens

Zoë and the swan had a heart to heart chat at the Public Gardens.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Aug 15: Back to Canada

The desk clerk at the motel says, of me and Denise, "You two must be sisters."

"No, just friends for a long time. Why, do we look alike?"

He tells me we do. I don't see it, although we both have dark hair.

Denise heads south and I head north. Back to Woodstock, NB, where the guy at Canadian Customs essentially waves me through.

Listening to CBC radio after I lose the NPR signal. The Canadians are obsessed with lightning this week, because some people were struck by lightning in Toronto or something on Monday. Don't people get struck by lightning all the time? I learn a LOT about lightning on the CBC.

I get home in the afternoon. It is HOT here. We were not expecting hot, and didn't bring any fans. Rob still hates it here. Zoë is having fun. The cats are settling in.

The kitchen is WAY too small. I suspect the homeowner is not someone who cooks. I never liked my kitchen at home, but at least it was roomy.

Friday, August 14, 2009

August 14: Back to Maine, and Main Street. The food service industry is weird.

Another early morning and long day of driving. Denise has my car, and I have the truck. The truck, when empty, bounces all over the place.

We stop for gas and lunch in Oromocto. We go to Jungle Jim's restaurant for Pepsi and fries. They call them home fries, but they're really just fresh cut french fries. When we ask our waiter for napkins, he looks at us like we've got antennae.

I've heard Canadians are very fond of their ubiquitous Tim Hortons, although to me it's pretty much like Dunkin Donuts. We go to TH's for some coffee. I forgot to bring soymilk, so I ask for ice coffee. I get a glass of white liquid, handed to me by an elderly woman who is clearly a trainee. "I didn't want milk. Just iced coffee," I say. She stares at me. The cashier stares at me. "There's no milk in it," she tells me. "Then why is it white?" I ask. "It's just cream," I'm told.
"I'm allergic to dairy," I tell them. "I just want PLAIN coffee, with nothing in it." Now the trainee is holding the cup like it's toxic. At this point, they seem completely flummoxed, and the entire kitchen appears to empty out, and all of Tim Horton's visor-wearing employees are standing behind the cashier trying to figure out what to do. The cup is handed to another employee, who hold it at arms length. "I guess I'll just dump it out?" I hear her say. There's a conference with the trainee, who goes to make me another coffee. Denise and I crack up about the "It's not milk, just cream," comment. I see the trainee stirring the cup, but when she hands it to me, it is vaguely coffee colored and clear, so I take it. "It's just plain coffee, right?" I ask. She assures me it is just coffee.

Back in the truck, I taste my "just coffee." It must have about 4 tablespoons of sugar in it. Disgusting. It's like coffee-flavored candy, only sweeter. I can't drink it. Apparently "coffee" doesn't mean the same thing in Canada that it means in the USA.

The guy at the US border is kind of weird. He wants to know where I've been, where I'm going, why, what kind of job I have in Canada. He insists on looking inside the empty truck.

I must say, I've gotten pretty good at driving this truck. We get to Bangor with half an hour to spare, but I forgot to fill the tank with gas. Since Penske charges $5/gal to fill the tank, I take the truck back out to get gas. The woman at Penske directs me to some crazy gas station nearby, affiliated with some heating oil company, where, after we waste 15 minutes trying to pay for the gas, it turns out the pumps aren't working. A guy in the office overhears my tale of woe, and volunteers to show me where the nearest working gas station is. He takes us to the Irving station, on Main Street. Across the street from the Fireside Inn. I have to do some crazy maneuvering to get to a pump. We make it back to Penske five minutes late, but they're cool, and the truck is returned. Then we head to the airport to pick up Denise's rental car. Except the GPS has lost its satellite signal.

We have to wing it. We get back on the highway and follow the signs for the airport, which turns out to be pretty dinky. Denise gets double upgraded from a Hyundai to a cherry red Ford Mustang. Dang. When I was in Halifax last month to look for a house, I rented a Mustang, but then had to downgrade when I added another day to the rental.

We find our motel -- the Super 8. Then head for Taste of India, which has been voted Bangor's best vegetarian restaurant. We end up in the wrong town, on the wrong Main Street, AGAIN. We find the right Main Street, and drive past the Fireside Inn and the Irving. The place we couldn't find the first night, we now can't avoid. Dinner is good. I drive the Mustang. Not that great, really. A noisy car, and not as zippy as my trusty old Tercel. No wonder Detroit is sinking. My car doesn't qualify for Cash For Clunkers, but this boat might.

We drive back past the Fireside Inn on the way home, and decide to stop at the Hollywood Slots Casino, which is right next door. What a weird place. We are definitely the oddballs in this joint, and can't figure out where the casino is. Some guy standing outside the elevator points to an elderly woman and says "Just follow her. She's a gambling addict." We go up in the elevator, then back down, and find the casino. We wait until we're waved through. Apparently we're too old to need our ID checked. We head for the quarter slots. We can't find the slot to put our quarter in. A drunk guy at the next machine starts chatting up Denise.

We move on to different machines. Denise goes to look for help. An elderly woman sits next to me, mesmerized by the video slot machine, pushing a button again and again. Kyle, casino employee, explains that the machines take a minimum five dollar bill, but will give us a voucher with our change, which we can then use in a machine if we like. I make a mistake, push the wrong button and bet my whole five bucks in one go. I'm done.

Denise gives me ten bucks. We wander from penny to nickel slots. Realize that this is really boring and pointless, and leave. We crack ourselves up again recounting our difficulty in trying to feed quarters into the quarter slots. DUH. Why would that work?

Back to the motel. Another early morning ahead. Denise is going home to Rhode Island, and I'm going back to Canada.

When I call Rob and Zoë, they have discovered my helmet -- not my bike -- on the fence at the playground next door. Rob refuses to call the cops and tell them. There might be fingerprints on there!